GLOBAL BRIEF: Dutch botch sports coverage - Public broadcasting rights thwarted fledgling Sport 7, Stephen Armstrong writes

In the long, cold build up to Christmas, Holland saw the tragic demise of its great sporting hope: Sport 7, the Netherlands’ first cable soccer channel. Despite a much trumpeted launch and backers of the highest quality, Sport 7 collapsed in December amid the cries of bickering shareholders and greedy football clubs. It was a sorry end to an all too brief life.

In the long, cold build up to Christmas, Holland saw the tragic

demise of its great sporting hope: Sport 7, the Netherlands’ first cable

soccer channel. Despite a much trumpeted launch and backers of the

highest quality, Sport 7 collapsed in December amid the cries of

bickering shareholders and greedy football clubs. It was a sorry end to

an all too brief life.



The channel had suffered since its birth in August. Cable operators in

Amsterdam put the station into their premium rate, cutting viewing

figures and scaring off advertisers. By October, viewing was falling

from 4 to 3 per cent and ad revenue was sticking firmly with free-to-air

channels.



Part of the problem, according to Jan Timmer, head of the Sport 7

supervisory board, was that the Dutch government had insisted that the

public broadcaster, NOS, be allowed to show highlights of matches. He

explains: ’Under political pressure, the channel had lost important

aspects of its exclusivity.’



Then, as if that wasn’t trouble enough, during the autumn the Dutch

football association, KNVB, witnessed the leading Amsterdam-based club,

Ajax, and Rotterdam’s Feyenoord, challenging its authority to block sell

football rights for all the clubs in the league. A high court agreed and

Feyenoord considered selling the rights to its own home games

separately. This was the final nail in the coffin for Sport 7 and, last

month, the shareholders voted to declare the company bankrupt.



Far from being a small war with no Britons killed, this is an issue

likely to have ramifications throughout the world of sporting rights. As

more and more UK soccer clubs seek plc status and are forced by

shareholders to find the best cash deal available for the club not the

league - and as clubs like Manchester United consider setting up their

own cable stations - it may not be long before the Premier League faces

similar insurgency in its ranks. If the top five teams follow the Dutch

example of pulling out of block negotiations and then finding their own

best deal, what will happen to Sky Sport?



Top Dutch companies like Philips, the banking group, ING, the country’s

largest newspaper group, Telegraaf Holdings - even the KNVB itself -

were shareholders in the channel.



This was enormously humiliating for the Dutch business community. The

rights are up for sale again, although there is fierce bickering over

who can actually sell them.



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